Can You Spare a Smile?

In which the author puts himself in the hands of three local dental experts in the repair and maintenance of happy teeth.

Smiling, like yawning, is contagious. As the song goes, “When you’re smiling, the whole world….” Well, you know.

The power of the smile is even more profound. In his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell cites a study on facial expressions. When the researchers spent the day practicing frowning expressions, they felt depressed; when they practiced smiling expressions, they felt upbeat, even happy.

With that in mind, I decided that, like Billy Crystal in the movie “City Slickers,” it was time to go and find my smile. The problem was that my teeth were not in great shape, which left me with a tendency to grin, but not broadly smile.

I knew it was long past time to visit a dentist even before I saw the wide-eyed look of Dr. Laura Davila. “It’s been how many years?” she asked. For her, dental maintenance — meaning at least a teeth cleaning — should be a quarterly event. I wasn’t even in the same ballpark.

So began my odyssey to a new smile — and it started very pleasantly. Dr. Davila and her partner Dr. Cristina Osorio are the proprietors of Coral Gables Dentistry, on a corner of Ponce de Leon as it heads south toward Bird Road. It borders on private homes on Camillo Street; the oak trees outside have orchids on them, exuding a calming effect from the start.

dental experts

That calming effect was immediately enhanced by: 1) a warm collar that relaxed the tensions in my neck; 2) a photo overhead of woods in New England; 3) an iPod with a vast selection of music; and 4) the application of nitrous oxide, upon request. Which I requested. It was that last touch which made my visits deeply pleasant, delivered by a non-intrusive nose cup. Once I drifted off on that magic carpet ride, as I did listening to the Beatles “Abbey Road” album, I couldn’t care less about what was being done to my mouth.

“If you smile more, you will be a happier person,” Dr. Davila told me. “It’s psychosomatic. You’ll feel better, less stressed.” Got it. As for what others think of you, “The whiter, the brighter, the larger, leads to someone considering you more trustworthy,” she said. “People also associate [a good smile] with better health.”

“Our practice,” says Dr. Osorio, “is for people who seek a rejuvenated smile, or because they didn’t get the aesthetic result they wanted [from another dentist] or to improve the functionality of their bite — because it’s not only about getting a big bright smile, it’s about getting chewable functional improvements, with an ability to clean it.”

That cleaning part is big for the doctors, who are all about maintenance. “The more you come in for cleanings, the less you’ll need us. We have a very strong hygiene program,” says Dr. Davila. 

They also use a new arsenal of high-tech tools under the rubric of “digital dentistry,” which means “we don’t take a hard impression but rather photos and videos of the teeth,” says Dr. Osorio. The result is CAD — computer assisted design — for perfect smiles. “When people are stopped because someone likes their smile, that is where we get the most satisfaction,” she says.

The carnage which Dr. Davila and Dr. Osorio surveyed in my mouth did not bode well for me. I knew I was already missing a tooth (one of the back ones, so you wouldn’t notice looking at me) but I wasn’t prepared for the slew of cavities and damaged crowns the X-rays revealed. I soon learned there are subspecialties in the dental world. While Drs. Osorio and Davila are brilliant when it comes to cavities, crowns, and veneers — the health and beauty aspects of dentistry — they are not trained to fix deeper periodontal issues.

I would need some bone work on my jaw where I had a missing tooth, and also work to rebuild damage in several other places, including my gums. So, Davila and Osorio sent me to the Dr. M Center Coral Gables, the M being short for Dr. Francisco Montamarta, a certified periodontist. His website’s motto is: “Live Healthy. Live Happy. Live Longer,” the last admonition referring to the grim fact that gum disease can damage your heart.

Dr. Montamarta is also infected with a kind of upbeat attitude, dressed in black scrubs with running shoes. Instead of a rural photograph hanging overhead, his treatment rooms calm the patients with moving videos of the Italian and French countrysides and coastlines. He is also big on Novocaine to numb things.

“I like to lighten the mood, because we can help — and there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” says Dr. Montamarta, who is thrilled with recent technological advances in dentistry. He was an early adopter of the laser, which “without a doubt, has transformed the way that we deal with diseases of the gums and bones,” allowing him to vaporize diseased tissue and stimulate new growth. In previous years, the surgery was long and painful, and “most people felt uneasy with the old style. Lasers are a fantastic addition.”

He also uses new high-tech materials to rebuild bone. “These are bone-like materials that the body eventually transforms into the same bone properties as the host. There is almost no difference under a microscope and none clinically,” he says. Dr. Montamarta also notes that more than 82 percent of adults in the U.S. have some form of gum-related diseases, and that his goal is to “replace anything lost from disease.”

In the Dr. M Center, right down the street from City Hall, I went in for several sessions to repair gum damage in a couple of places, and to rebuild bone where I’d lost my tooth. Once these repairs had taken place, and healed, I returned to Dr. Davila and Dr. Osorio to have them install a new tooth, replace two cracked crowns, fill my cavities, and then whiten everything up.

The results have been transformative. I can chew better now. I find myself smiling at the slightest provocation without my previous hesitancy. I also notice the yellowing, unhealthy teeth of others, and raise an eyebrow — now that I am a member of the smile club.

“A smile is an open door and a winning ticket. That is the best way to describe it,” says Dr. Montamarta. “A good smile is also a healthy smile. It means a healthy body and healthy soul…. It’s not only the way the smile looks. It’s what it represents.”

Photos by Rodolfo Benitez.

Dr. M Center Coral Gables
555 Biltmore Way #106

Coral Gables Dentistry
3326 Ponce De Leon